A rendering of the aspergillus mold. Credit: Centers for Disease Control

A year and a half after agreeing to increase mold and yeast limits in legal cannabis, Connecticut regulators formally released a proposed rules update to reflect that change. The proposal includes a 30-day comment period for the public.

The new proposed standard limits the presence of mold and yeast in flower to no more than 100,000 (or 10^5) Colony Forming Units per gram, with the exception that in cannabis that is intended for inhalation, no Aspergillus species of mold can be detected in any amount. Therefore, in Connecticut, tested flower must not have more than 100,000 mold or yeast cells in a single gram.

The Association of Public Health Laboratories recommends that states adopt mold testing standards that cap the limit at 10^3 CFU/g. Since the incarnation of its medical cannabis program and until the quiet change in 2020, Connecticut had adopted a 10^4 threshold.

While there is no official federal standard, the United States Pharmacopeia does recommend that mold counts in cannabis products not exceed 10^4 CFU/g, with a zero tolerance for Salmonella and E. Coli. Maine and Massachusetts, both of which have legal adult-use markets, follow the same 10^4 threshold.

“The purpose of the proposed regulation is to formally update microbial testing standards in the regulations for medical marijuana to better reflect current industry standards and scientific developments, and also create a consistent standard for both labs operating in Connecticut,” said Kaitlyn Krasselt, spokesperson for the Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees the state’s cannabis program.

Last year, AltaSci Labs, one of Connecticut’s two cannabis testing labs, requested the state to increase its threshold to 1,000,000 (or 10^6) CFU/g, with the added stipulation that there be zero tolerance for Aspergillus mold. The state agreed with the new interpretation of the law, without issuing a formal rule about the change.

After a public outcry over the shift in regulations, the state offered a new standard at the lower 10^5 standard without explanation for the change. 

This change was not publicized by the state, and only came to light after medical cannabis advocates used public records laws to obtain emails between the state and AltaSci.

“Only a Freedom of Information Act complaint could definitely establish that DCP secretly approved the current unsafe testing standards. Prior to that, inquiring patients were systematically stonewalled,” said medical patient and activist Lou Rinaldi. “The fact that it took a public shaming to force the agency into corrective action only serves to underscore the need for an ombudsman-led Patient Advocacy Council in the medical program. Although DCP finally seeking public comment is a positive step, the fox still cannot be trusted to regulate the hen house.”

Concerns over the state’s mold standards spilled over into Connecticut’s efforts to establish social equity standards for the new adult-use cannabis market. During the final Social Equity Council meeting of 2021, held on Dec. 7, the public comment period featured medical users with concerns about safe testing standards, despite the issue not being on the meeting’s agenda.

“I am a medical patient,” said New Haven resident Joshua Frasier, at that meeting.. “I have bought products that had mold, mites, things that could make me, as a Lyme patient, very sick. No patient should have to suffer beyond what they already do.”

Aspergillus remains the only family of mold that has been identified as a potential danger, especially to those who are immunocompromised, but there is still uncertainty about the safety of other molds that could be present in cannabis, such as Botrytis or Cladosporium.

The general public is able to submit comments about the new regulation electronically through the state’s website.

Rinaldi suggested that state regulators also consider supplementing the additional cost that more-stringent lab testing may bring, especially for smaller operators.

“As Connecticut transitions to a hybrid medical and recreational market, the barriers to entry for micro-cultivators are already prohibitively high,” he said. “Add the cost of lab testing on top of that, and it’s a serious equity problem. Corporate multi-state operators currently salivating over anticipated windfall profits should be subsidizing testing costs for the micro-cultivators. This is how you rebuild trust after endangering patients with inadequate testing, through good-faith gestures that are responsible, responsive and just.”

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...